I sit here, a black woman born in America. I made my entrance into this world decades after the Jim Crow era, centuries after the emancipation of my ancestors. I’ve never been enslaved. I’ve never had to sit in the back of a bus. I’ve never been turned away from a hospital because I was the wrong color. I’ve never been spit on simply because I dared to seek an education. I’ve never had my babies sold away from me, while milk still leaked from my breasts. I’ve never had the body of a loved one laid at my feet, the features grossly disfigured, eyes bulging and neck broken, the twine from a rope still lodged in their shredded skin. I’ve never experienced any of that. But those images have haunted my dreams for the last few weeks. I can’t breathe.
The truth of the historical lack of value for black lives sits on the seat of my heart. I log onto social media and I see videos of one man being choked to death. I see the shaky image of another laying face down in the middle of an empty street, blood seeping from his bullet riddled body. I see photos of a boy, not yet a man, killed because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I see another boy, shot down because he played with a toy gun in a park. I see this images and my heart breaks. I can’t breathe.
Even more disturbing than the images are the comments beneath them. Comments like, “He shouldn’t have been selling cigarettes.” “He’s a criminal, and he got what a criminal deserves.” “If they’re so concerned about black lives, why don’t they work on not killing each other first.” “People always want to play the race card. If he had been white, we wouldn’t even be talking about this now.” “Here we go again with the racism. I’m sick of these people never being satisfied and making a big deal out of nothing.” “If you break the law, you get choked out. Stop breaking the law.” “He was no choir boy, so all of this protesting isn’t necessary.” I read these comments and I can’t breathe.
I wonder how anyone can have such a disregard for life that they actually attempt to justify the murder of unarmed people. I wonder how they can defend the actions of someone they never met, after having heard only one side of the story. I wonder how it can be okay for one man to act as prosecution, judge and jury, sentencing and execution, all within the span of a few moments. I wonder when selling cigarettes without a permit became a crime punishable by death. I wonder when vandalizing a convenience store became a crime punishable by death. I wonder when walking on private property became a crime punishable by death. I wonder when playing a prank in a park became a crime punishable by death. I wonder these things and I can’t breathe.
I remember being a young girl living in Long Beach, California, a suburb of Los Angeles. I remember watching the news and seeing three white police officers beat a black man almost to death. I remember not being able to go to school because people were setting my neighborhood on fire, breaking windows and stealing merchandise. I remember watching as two black men pulled a white man from a big rig truck and beat him, for no other reason than the color of his skin. I remember thinking how wrong all of these people were. I remember that I watched all of this unfold, and I couldn’t breathe.
Days after the Rodney King riots I walked home from school. I noticed that now there were bars on the store front windows. When I went to the corner store, the clerk told me to take my backpack off and leave it by the door. Suddenly, I was not to be trusted. I felt enraged that in a store I had frequented for years, I was viewed not as a customer, but as a potential criminal. I was a twelve year old girl and I told the store clerk that no, I would not leave my backpack by the front door. I asked him why he wanted me to do so and he said so that I would not steal. I asked him how did I know that he wouldn’t steal from me? Eventually, he waved me off and said fine, keep your backpack.
I used to pick roses from my neighbor’s yard. On my way home from school I would choose the largest blooms with the richest colors and pluck them. I’d walk home, delightfully inhaling their delectable fragrance. One day, the owner of the house rushed into her front yard and angrily demanded to know what I was doing. I happily informed her that I was picking flowers to make a bouquet to put in my room. I offered to make one for her too. She politely declined and told me that the flowers were private property and were not mine for the taking. I apologized and went on my way, only stopping to smell (not pick) the flowers from that day forward.
I share those stories because they could have easily ended another way. What are nothing but minor incidents from my childhood could have meant the end of my life if the situations had escalated. I have to wonder if, had I been a young black boy instead of a young black girl, the stories would have ended differently. I think about the small choices that lead to tragedy. I think about how in the blink of an eye, a routine arrest can become a homicide.
I add my voice to the struggle for human rights, not to add to the dissension, but to help bridge the gap. I hope that what I’ve shared causes someone to pause and evaluate whether or not the tragedies of the last year are truly separate isolated incidences that don’t reflect the current state of American culture. I hope that they will take a few moments and think about whether the outcome of these tragedies truly reflect the value that all lives matter.
As for me, I’m holding my breath for my cousins, uncles, brothers, friends, nephews, father, probable future husband and sons. Because I won’t be able to breathe easy, until they can.
When life is heavy and hard to take, go off by yourself. Enter the silence. Bow in prayer. Don’t ask questions: Wait for hope to appear. Don’t run from trouble. Take it full-face. The “worst” is never the worst. (Lamentations 3: 28-30, The Message)
Stomping down hard on luckless prisoners, refusing justice to victims in the court of High God, tampering with evidence—the Master does not approve of such things. (Lamentations 3: 34-36, The Message)
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere~ Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“Every 28 hours a young black man is killed by police,” one young woman told the Guardian, referring to nationwide statistics. “Only 2% of police are indicted. Those numbers are crazy. It’s telling young black men that their lives don’t matter and their deaths can be passed over.” Source
A new report from ProPublica analyzes data from the FBI’s Supplementary Homicide Report on teenagers shot by police from 2010 to 2012. The report concludes that black teens are 21 times more likely than white teens to be killed by police officers..~ Source
Police officers, security guards, or self-appointed vigilantes extrajudicially killed at least 313 African-Americans in 2012, according to a recent study. This means a black person was killed by a security officer every 28 hours. The report notes that it’s possible that the real number could be much higher. ~Source
In Missouri, for example, African Americans were 66 percent more likely than whites to be stopped by police in 2013, according to the St. Louis Post Dispatch. A similar disparity exists in many other states and cities. ~Source
Author’s note: I respect and appreciate police officers who conduct themselves with honor. I’m an advocate for accountability and legislation that provides justice for senseless killing.